Ponce de Leon first arrived in and explored La Florida during the time of the Easter feast, which has always allowed for an extra outpouring of celebration surrounding the Easter holiday in and around St. Augustine, Spain’s first permanent stronghold in what would become the United States.
St. Augustine became the site of the country’s first permanent parish church, known today as the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augustine. From this center, Catholics celebrate Easter and their town’s founding each year. Diverse groups have contributed to the many Easter celebrations that occur today.
In the nineteenth century, Menorcans sang fromajadis, or serenades, on the evening before Easter Sunday. William Cullen Bryant, while visiting St. Augustine in 1843, wrote down the lyrics of such a serenade in his Letters of a Traveler, or Notes of Things seen in Europe and America (New York: G.P. Putnam & Son, 1869). The hymns were sung in honor of the Virgin Mary. St. Augustinian Dr. Andrew Anderson visited the island of Menorca in 1888 and surprised the locals by singing the fromajadis, which he had been singing in St. Augustine around Easter since he was a child.
On March 11, 1870, Florida east of the Apalachicola River was designated the Diocese of St. Augustine. St. Augustine and the Diocese continued as the center of Catholicism in this southern state.
Modern day parades became a staple tradition in St. Augustine in the twentieth century. The Parada de los Caballos y Coches (Parade of Horses and Carriages), founded in 1956, is now the second oldest Easter Parade in the country. The parade today consists of floats, drill teams, clowns, a display of St. Augustine’s Royal Menorcan Family, and of course, the Easter Bunny. The route begins at the Old Jail Museum on San Marco Avenue, runs south along the bayfront, and ends at the Plaza de la Constitución.
Another St. Augustine Easter tradition is the Blessing of the Fleet, which takes place the preceding week, on Palm Sunday. This blessing for safe passage dates back to the Spanish Colonial period, and a modern version of the tradition still exists. Today, any vessel that wishes to participate may be blessed by the Bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine following a procession from the Cathedral Basilica to the St. Augustine Municipal Marina. The blessing says, “May the Blessing of Almighty God, The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost descend upon these ships and upon all who shall be in them and remain forever Amen”. Flowers in the shape of an anchor are laid out to sea.
Happy Easter from Governor’s House!